If you’ve been putting up with a payroll and HR system that no longer works for you and your employees, it’s likely time to take the leap and move to a new system. Switching systems can mean fewer manual processes and streamlined data flows, giving your team more time to focus on more strategic and people-oriented tasks within your department. If you’ve determined switching is the best option, you’re likely concerned about the work involved in moving to a new system. Working with unfamiliar technology and people, loading and mapping employee data and history, conducting user training on the new system…it can seem overwhelming. However, you can minimize the stress and workload by following a few essential guidelines for a successful payroll implementation.

Over our many years of experience with payroll implementations, we’ve noted what makes an implementation go smoothly and what causes a lot of bumps in the road. Here are five steps you can take to ensure you and your team will be celebrating once you’re up and running on your new system.

Step 1 – Research and Choose the Right New Payroll/HR System

With so many companies to choose from in today’s market, selecting a new system can seem a little overwhelming – but it’s critical to get it right because payroll involves sensitive employee and employer data that must be protected. With this in mind, there are several items you can review, both internally and externally, to thoroughly evaluate your potential new vendor.

Your internal needs

Before you begin researching your vendors more closely, you should first have a good understanding of what your business needs internally from a new system. What exactly are you trying to accomplish with a new system? Is it merely an upgrade to the way you process payroll? Are you struggling to keep up with the number of new employees and the resulting new hire paperwork? Do you need a leave of absence tracking system? Are you looking for a better way to track performance reviews or manage benefits enrollment? Do you have other systems that will need to exchange data with your payroll and HR system?

When you know precisely what you want, you can start crossing vendors off your list that don’t meet your needs.

The vendor’s reputation

Through review sites like Google, TrustPilot, G2 Crowd, and your city’s Better Business Bureau, you can get a sense of a vendor’s reliability, trustworthiness, and support level. If you can find a customer or two to speak with, that’s going to give you a good perspective on the vendor and their services – what works and what could be better.

Glassdoor can give you a peek into their culture and atmosphere and most notably, how they treat their employees. How a company treats its employees is often an indicator of how employees treat customers. Chances are if customers give strong ratings on review sites and employees rave about their company on Glassdoor, you’ll be working with a dependable vendor.

Free Payroll Implementation Checklist [Download]

Their support

It’s vital to research this because a mistake during payroll can be potentially detrimental to an employee. Anyone who has worked in payroll long enough knows errors happen – a new hire fails to get into the system, someone miskeys a pay rate or hours, or you miss a processing deadline due to an emergency. So, you’ll want to know how quickly your calls for assistance will be acknowledged and resolved.

You can find details about a company’s support on their website and from reviews. You’ll also be able to get a glimpse into this during your sales processes. Do they respond to you promptly? Do they conduct all business in email, or are they willing to talk on the phone? Do they listen well and respond appropriately?

Another important consideration in selecting a vendor is how much work their team is committed to completing as part of your onboarding process. Is their definition of implementing the system to assign you due dates for loading data into the system, or is it loading the data for you? Find out which vendor employee or employees will be helping you and what their responsibilities are. Consider it a red flag if the vendor cannot provide specific details.

Your budget

Among payroll and HR systems, there are a wide variety of pricing models. It can be challenging to compare the pricing provided by each vendor, but it is in your best interest to take the time to compare apples to apples.

Be firm in asking for all costs for the year. Understand exactly what’s included in the price and what will cost extra. What happens as your company grows and you add employees—how will that affect your budget? Are there any set-up or implementation fees, and what do they cover? How often will they raise their rates?

Step 2 – Define Goals and Set Target Dates

Establishing a timeline with goals is an essential component of a successful implementation. After you’ve completed your research and selected a vendor, you need a detailed road map to get you to your ultimate goal: a successful first payroll with your new system. The creation of a project road map should be a collaboration between you and your vendor.

Consult with your vendor to review their recommended timeline. Start with your desired first payroll date and work backward, making adjustments for any situations that may impact the timeline, such as other company system updates or events that will put stress on employees’ time. It’s a good idea to build in extra time to account for unexpected situations because they will arise in most implementations.

Consider the implementation of modules beyond payroll if you have selected those products, such as time and labor, recruiting and onboarding, and HR management. Will they launch with payroll or later in the process? Ask other system users such as department managers what elements of your new system are the most important to them and use that to build out your timeline.

As a final step, be sure that both you and your vendor agree to the timeline. Work through any inconsistencies until you are both satisfied with the plan.

Step 3 – Create an Implementation Plan and Team

You should delegate one person on the payroll or HR team with excellent project management skills to lead the implementation. Depending on your company size, there could be additional people involved in the implementation.

To keep the process smooth and transparent, set up a meeting with key members of the project to discuss the new system. Solicit feedback on the plan and assign tasks with due dates to people with integral roles. For example, a manager who handles hiring and onboarding may need to ensure all the proper documentation is in your new system, and then test certain functionalities when ready.

The most important part of setting up the project leader and team members for success is ensuring you’ve set aside time in each of their workweeks to devote to the project. You must accept that if you choose to divert their time away from the project in favor of other tasks, the timeline will suffer. And if you are the one managing the project, be very clear with your supervisor about the time commitment required for the project and the opportunity cost of assigning other tasks that take you away from the payroll implementation project.

Step 4 – Train Your Employees

Proper training can help everyone adapt to your new system, understand the benefits to them, and take advantage of the efficiencies the new system affords. For a successful training program, consider the following:

  • Schedule vendor-led training for your payroll and HR personnel as well as managers.
  • Establish reports for management that help them make the most use of the data in the system.
  • Train every single employee on key functionality, such as checking pay stubs, printing W-2s, and viewing time off balances.
  • Document new business processes and any new terminology to help employees complete system tasks without having to call you or the project manager.

Step 5 – Go Live

Before you process your first live payroll, complete quality assurance checks on the data, and consider executing a parallel test run in the new system. Once you officially run payroll on the new system, hang tight because the project is not over!

The last step in any successful implementation plan is evaluating that first payroll because, with so many humans involved, an expectation of perfection is not realistic. Note any challenges, mistakes, or areas of improvement you’d like to see. Bring this up to your vendor so you can make adjustments and experience smoother payroll processing in the future. Continue to make a note of any problems after your first payroll, too. Ongoing communication with your vendor is key to a successful partnership.

But most importantly, after all is said and done, celebrate your work and thank all of those involved in the process. An office pizza party might be in order!

Implementing a new payroll system may seem like a challenging endeavor, but selecting the right vendor and taking the right steps to manage the process can deliver a better experience and outcome for you and your company.

Share This Story